American Evangelical theologian William Lane Craig is ready to debate the rationality of faith during his U.K tour this fall, but it appears that some atheist philosophers are running shy of the challenge.
This month president of the British Humanist Association, Polly Toynbee, pulled out of an agreed debate at London’s Westminster Central Hall in October, saying she “hadn’t realized the nature of Mr. Lane Craig’s debating style.”
Lane Craig, who is a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., and author of 30 books and hundreds of scholarly articles, is no stranger to the art of debate and has taken on some of the great orators, such as famous atheists Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Harris once described Craig as “the one Christian apologist who has put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”.
Responding to Toynbee’s cancellation, Lane Craig commented: “These folks (atheists) can be very brave when they are alone at the podium and there’s no one there to challenge them. But one of the great things about these debates is that, it allows both sides to be heard on a level playing field, and for the students in the audience to make up their own minds about where they think the truth lies.”
[...]Others have refused to challenge Lane Craig, too, including Richard Dawkins, one of the Four Horseman of the new Atheist movement, which include Hitchens, Harris and Daniel Dennett.
Craig has debated Hitchens, Harris and Dennett, and defeated them all easily.
Dawkins, who has labeled the Roman Catholic Church “evil” and once called the Pope “a leering old villain in a frock,” refused four separate invitations, extended through religious and humanist organizations, to take part in debates with Lane Craig during his fall tour.
The controversy wafted into the British press after fellow atheist and philosophy lecturer, Daniel Came, accused Dawkins of simply being afraid, saying, “The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.”
Here’s an example of William Lane Craig debating the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, arguably the top popular atheist in the world today.
Here’s a review of that debate fromCommon Sense Atheism, a popular atheist web site.
I just returned from the debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. It was a bigger deal than I realized. Over 3,000 people were there, and groups from dozens of countries – including Sri Lanka, apparently – had purchased a live feed.
Of three recent Craig debates, I was most looking forward to his matchup with Morriston, which has yet to be posted online. I was somewhat excited for his debate with Carrier, which was disappointing. I was least excited for this debate with Hitchens, but it was the only one in my area, so I went.
The debate went exactly as I expected. Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child. Perhaps Hitchens realized how bad things were for him after Craig’s opening speech, as even Hitchens’ rhetorical flourishes were not as confident as usual. Hitchens wasted his cross-examination time with questions like, “If a baby was born in Palestine, would you rather it be a Muslim baby or an atheist baby?” He did not even bother to give his concluding remarks, ceding the time instead to Q&A.
So why isn’t there a British atheist brave enough to face Craig on his UK speaking tour?
Well, what William Lane Craig offers in his debates is a set of deductive arguments that are logically valid, and supported by the latest scientific evidence (which he has published in peer-reviewed scientific journals), and the consensus of academic historians, using standard historical methods. Atheists are ill-equipped to respond to this case, because atheism is not really a rational worldview that is based on evidence. It’s really adopted because people cannot be bothered with the demands of the moral law. They make these faith commitments about there being no evidence, or that religious people have blind faith, or that all religions are the same (especially the ones they haven’t studied), or that religion is unfalsifiable. But the root cause is simply the desire to not have to care about right and wrong.
Consider the famous agnostic Aldous Huxley:
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937
What about the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel?
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)
The famous philosopher Mortimer Adler rejected religion for most of his life because it “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.”
As G.K. Chesterton says,”The Christian way has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found to be hard and left untried“. Atheists want to believe that there is no God, so they do. And they carefully avoid studying anything that might threaten what they want to believe – or having to debate people who might challenge what they want to believe. What you will see from atheists instead of a willingness to study science and to debate qualified Christians is things like one-line ads on the sides of buses, lawsuits forbidding people to exercise their right to free speech, and demands that Christians not oppose abortion and slavery – because that cramps their pursuit of pleasure, don’t you know.
Here’s an example of an atheist learning about history from Bart Ehrman, a famous secular historian:
Of course, William Lane Craig has debated Bart Ehrman (video) as well. And defeated him. Badly.
Atheism really isn’t a knowledge tradition. It’s not really something that they think is true – it’s just that they want to be hedonists, and they want you to stop making them feel guilty with your moral superiority and moral judgments and your “unfair” moral prohibitions on bestiality and infanticide. Often, these people believe that the universe is eternal, that there are millions of unobservable universes, and that unobservable aliens can explain the origin of life. Craziness. And yet they are allowed to vote. I’m scared that these people can vote – especially since most of them voted for 1.65 trillion dollar annual deficits, because of “hope and change”. Maybe we should try to reform the education system to help them to get used to arguments, evidence and debates.